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1998 — A look into the past: All tire sizes to be metric

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All tire sizes to be metric

(Editor's Note: This story is part of our #TireBiz30 in which we feature one archived story every day of September to celebrate Tire Business' 30th anniversary. Each story represents one of the most relevant news story published in our pages for that year.)

WASHINGTON — All tires sold in the U.S. must be marked with metric as well as English measurements by May 27, 2003, according to a new final rule from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The NHTSA regulation, published in the May 27 Federal Register, implements the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, which requires the metric conversion of all U.S. industry.

"The government looks at this as a way to encourage a change to metrics," said Steven Butcher, vice president-technical and standards for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. "This is something of an intermediate area between where we are now and 100-percent metric."

Passenger tires have "evolved" into dual English-metric markings, so the final rule is no problem in that area, according to Mr. Butcher. Medium truck and bus tires, however, have no such head start into metrics.

"New truck tire manufacturers will need to put in new markings," he said. "From a practical point of view, unless the truck tire industry evolves and changes quickly, this is a problem, because few if any people (who purchase truck tires) are specifying in metrics."

Truck tire technicians are used to English measurements, he said, and truck tire equipment such as gauges and inflation devices are still measured off in inches and pounds. "Unless there's a significant change, they (tire technicians) will continue to look at inches and pounds," he said.

In separate comments, the RMA and Goodyear both proposed that NHTSA not require metric markings for truck and bus tires.

Goodyear said it would "virtually have to restamp every mold" for its truck tires, and the RMA estimated the rule would cost its tire-making members $18.2 million, based on the combination of estimates it received from Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., Michelin North America, Dunlop Tire Corp., Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., and Continental General Tire Inc.

The agency refused this request, saying it could not ignore a federal mandate. But it did do something neither Goodyear nor the RMA requested--it extended the deadline for complying with the molding requirement to five years from the one-year period in the proposed rule.

"If it had been less than five years, it would have been much more difficult to make the change," Mr. Butcher said. "Most people agree that five years will be enough time."

Changing all the molds to include metric markings is "not an inexpensive proposition," noted Donald T. Wilson, government affairs director for the Tire Association of North America.

"It probably will be worse for the private branders," Mr. Wilson said. "They have less resources than the large companies, but they own their own tire molds, and they'll have to be redone."

Retreaders probably have little to fear from the metric regulation, according to Marvin Bozarth, executive director of the International Tire and Rubber Association.

"There has to be some education as to what the markings mean," Mr. Bozarth said. "We will provide what it takes to educate our members, but I don't think there's anything of major impact in this for our members."

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